• Saturday, July 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

There’s something about Mtwara

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To completely change the tack of this column from some of its usual itineraries, I am drawn this week to write about the United Republic of Tanzania. This is simply because the BCA (Business Council for Africa an institution to which I have now been affiliated for ten years and which kindly permits me to attend their increasingly popular functions) has just had a meeting on the subject. The title was ‘Tanzania – a Country of Enormous business Potential,’ and followed on from an official visit to Britain of its President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, just prior to his attendance at the EU-Africa Summit in Brussels, it seems that this only the third such official visit since the present coalition government came to power in May 2010 (the others have been South Africa and Ghana). This is a reflection of how the country has currently enjoying favoured status among donors – it was one of those chosen by President Obama last year for his second African tour. And Britain has included it (with Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique and Angola) in its five priority African countries.

 President Kikwete’s second term in office ends next year, which will mean that he will have done ten years, like his predecessor President Mkapa, who took over after the passing of the country’s founding father Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. There appears to be no expectation that he is going to change the constitution to seek a third term (as seems to be the habit among some of his fellow African heads of state). Nyerere is still recalled as one of the great African leaders of the twentieth century, and the moral integrity he represented still serves as a model for others. Of course he made mistakes, as all leaders can, but his reputation still towers up there with Mandela. I have interviewed him (at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in New Delhi in 1983) and heard him speak always with honesty, lucidity and wit on several memorable occasions.

 The BCA meeting confirmed a view I have held for a long time that Tanzania is one of Africa’s most prudent and stable countries, even if it currently facing major changes because of the huge possibilities of natural gas, although no-one is yet mentioning the “resource curse”, partly because no oil (the cursed resource) has so far been discovered. One must also take into account that export of Liquefied Natural Gas is not expected until 2021 (two years after Mozambique, which has similarly seen major gas discoveries). In 2012 projections of Tanzania’s total reserves of gas rose from 10 trillion cubic feet to 40 trillion cubic feet, and a $20bn LNG plant is planned (supported by both British gas and Norway’s Statoil.. The future that these discoveries opens up was one of the themes of the meeting, although speakers were keen to stress that the key to the “possibilities” lay in improving the business environment. The High Commissioner Peter Kallaghe said it was the key sector that could unlock the others (oil and gas, agriculture renewable energy and tourism), and Juliet Kairuki of the Tanzania Investment Centre after acknowledging that gas discoveries had “put us on the map”, also spoke of the importance of “transparency”. Questions from businessmen seemed to hint politely at problems of bureaucracy and red tape, and her answers were cautious.

 What stayed in my mind after the meeting was the name (and idea) of Mtwara, a port in the furthest south of Tanzania, near the Mozambique border. According to the Mtwara regional Commissioner Col (retired) Joseph Simbakalia,  is planned, ambitiously, it is planned that it should be a regional oil and gas hub for the whole coast – an “East African Aberdeen” (one should note that President Kikwete’s official programme included a visit to the Scottish oil centre).

 A natural deep-water harbour, Mtwara port was built by the British in the late colonial period to service the ill-fated groundnut schemes, an early disaster in what came to be called development aid but then was part of ‘colonial development and welfare.’ According to a piece in The Economist last year, the British at that time also saw it as being a good strategic replacement for the Simonstown base in South  Africa but that idea also became redundant after the arrival of independence and the British pull-out ‘east of Suez’.

 The strategic geographical location was also pointed up by Col Simbakalia who also spoke of the expansion for Mtwara town, which should more than double in size to over 200,000 people by the year 2020. Nigerian tycoon Aliko Dangote (in his Pan-African mode) is already committed to constructing a cement works there, with the expansion in mind, as port improvements should facilitate not just the local export of cashew but possible agro-industries, and, in this exciting future, the development of financial services in connection with the ‘hub’. The article in The economist was significantly titled ‘2The Mtwara Rockefellers”. Clearly there’s a fairly heady atmosphere around Mtwara.

Kaye Whiteman